Monkeypox Is Not a ‘Gay Disease’

Health experts have linked the outbreak to two raves in Europe. Close physical contact with any infected individual can result in infection.

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monkeypox is not just spread through gay sex
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Key Facts:

  • A sizable amount of monkeypox cases in 2022 have been confirmed in men who have sex with men.
  • However, there is no evidence to suggest that gay or bisexual men are biologically more susceptible to the virus.
  • Rather, health experts warn that the virus is spreading within that community due largely to human habits, and the World Health Organization says men who have sex with other men are a vulnerable population.
  • Monkeypox is a virus that can be spread through respiratory droplets and skin-to-skin contact, and thus sexual activities in general.

Public health officials in Los Angeles confirmed what they believe to be the first known case of monkeypox in the state of California and at least the second U.S. case of 2022, after a Massachusetts man tested positive for the virus in May.

As the virus spread outside of its endemic African range to regions it isn’t normally reported in — including North America and parts of Europe — the Snopes newsroom saw social media posts that inflated or twisted scientific facts about the disease to exaggerate its danger. One such case was the below-displayed Facebook post that likened monkeypox to AIDS and cited unknown sources that supposedly said “monkeypox is spread around ‘homosexual/gay men.'”

These social media posts implied that the properties of monkeypox allowed the virus to spread faster among men who have sex with men, or that gay and bisexual men were more susceptible to infection.

This was not true. As far as medical health experts are concerned, there is nothing about the monkeypox virus that targets gay or bisexual men over others. Neither does AIDS, for that matter. Transmission within such communities is largely due to human behavior and not how the virus itself behaves within infected people’s immune systems.

As of this writing, monkeypox was spreading faster within some communities of men who have sex with other men, giving public health officials reason to issue public warnings to the LGBTQ community. Put another way, men who have sex with other men were found to be more susceptible to the virus compared to other people, simply because of who was currently infected and where, not due to biological properties of the virus. Transmission can simply be explained by human behavior. (More on that below.)

In the weeks following the first reported case, a leading adviser to the World Health Organization (WHO) told The Associated Press that the “unprecedented outbreak” likely began spreading through sexual transmission during two raves in Spain and Belgium. (For the record, health experts continue to contend that monkeypox will likely not turn into a full-blown pandemic.)

“We know monkeypox can spread when there is close contact with the lesions of someone who is infected, and it looks like sexual contact has now amplified that transmission,” Dr. David Heymann told the news publication.

As we have previously reported, monkeypox is a DNA virus related to smallpox in the poxvirus group. (DNA viruses are those that have genomes that can be replicated by the host, meaning that they use the host to make copies of themselves to further spread through the body during the course of infection.) Monkeypox infections are rare, but can lead to serious complications that begin with flu-like symptoms and progress to a widespread rash on the face and body. Though not easily transmitted between people (the virus mainly spreads from infected animals to humans), human-to-human transmission occurs through the swapping of bodily fluids and touch — including sexual activities when/if contact is made with the lesions of an infected person — as well as shared personal items, such as contaminated clothing and bedding.

In early June 2022, the U.K. Health Security Agency (UKHSA) reported that a sizable number of known monkeypox cases in Europe occurred in gay men, according to a news release. Investigations led by the UKHSA linked those cases to gay bars, saunas, and the “use of dating apps in the UK and abroad,” but investigators contended that “currently no single factor or exposure that links the cases has been identified.” In short, transmission between gay men may simply be explained by the way the virus is transmitted, the frequency at which these locations are visited, and who is currently infected or spreading the virus. As an added layer of precaution, experts were warning all groups — especially men who have sex with men — to be on the lookout for potential symptoms.

“Monkeypox can affect anyone, but we know that many of the most recent diagnoses are in gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men, many of whom live in, or have links to London,” said Kevin Fenton, the London Regional Director for Public Health. “As with any new disease outbreak, the risk of stigma and uncertainty is great.”

With regard to the 2022 outbreak, the WHO issued a public health advisory for men who have sex with other men.

“Some cases have been identified through sexual health clinics in communities of gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men. It is important to note that the risk of monkeypox is not limited to men who have sex with men. Anyone who has close contact with someone who is infectious is at risk,” wrote the global health agency.

Monkeypox can be spread through close physical contact with someone who is showing symptoms, including touching and being face-to-face, and during close skin-to-skin contact during sex. This includes “kissing, touching, oral and penetrative sex.” Health experts recommend avoiding contact with anyone who is exhibiting symptoms, and for symptomatic individuals to isolate at home and talk to a health worker.

“Stigmatizing people because of a disease is never ok. Anyone can get or pass on monkeypox, regardless of their sexuality,” the WHO said.

A sizable amount of monkeypox cases in 2022 have been confirmed in men who have sex with men. However, there is no evidence to suggest that gay or bisexual men are biologically more susceptible to the virus. Rather, health experts warn that the virus is spreading within that community due largely to human habits, and the WHO says men who have sex with other men are a vulnerable population. Regardless of a person’s sexuality, they can become infected with monkeypox through sexual contact — or any physical contact, for that matter — with an infected person either via respiratory droplets or by touching skin lesions and bodily fluids.


Sources:

“Expert: Monkeypox Likely Spread by Sex at 2 Raves in Europe.” Snopes.Com, https://www.snopes.com/ap/2022/05/23/monkeypox-spread-european-raves/. Accessed 3 June 2022.

LISTING OF DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC HEALTH PRESS RELEASES. http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/phcommon/public/media/mediapubdetail.cfm?unit=media&ou=ph&prog=media&cur=cur&prid=3884&row=25&start=1#:~:text=The%20Los%20Angeles%20County%20Department,close%20contact%20to%20a%20case. Accessed 3 June 2022.

“Log into Facebook.” Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/login/?next=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2FPTAMERICA2020%2Fposts%2Fpfbid02BCKkNHDwnaN36GLMknZutacnHBrDz5zzBTTvEtndKnXwRWH4erLbBiNE43ruH9Z6l. Accessed 3 June 2022.

Massachusetts Public Health Officials Confirm Case of Monkeypox | Mass.Gov. https://www.mass.gov/news/massachusetts-public-health-officials-confirm-case-of-monkeypox. Accessed 3 June 2022.

“Monkeypox and Gay Men: Separating Stigma from Health Advice.” BBC News, 28 May 2022. www.bbc.com, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-61609888.

BBC News, 28 May 2022. www.bbc.com, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-61609888.

Monkeypox: Public Health Advice for Gay, Bisexual and Other Men Who Have Sex with Men. https://www.who.int/news/item/25-05-2022-monkeypox–public-health-advice-for-gay–bisexual-and-other-men-who-have-sex-with-men. Accessed 3 June 2022.

“UKHSA Latest Findings into Monkeypox Outbreak.” GOV.UK, https://www.gov.uk/government/news/ukhsa-latest-findings-into-monkeypox-outbreak. Accessed 3 June 2022.

GOV.UK, https://www.gov.uk/government/news/ukhsa-latest-findings-into-monkeypox-outbreak. Accessed 3 June 2022.

“US Case of Monkeypox Reported in Massachusetts Man.” Snopes.Com, https://www.snopes.com/ap/2022/05/19/us-case-of-monkeypox-reported-in-massachusetts-man/. Accessed 3 June 2022.

“What Is Monkeypox?” Snopes.Com, https://www.snopes.com/news/2022/05/19/what-is-monkeypox/. Accessed 3 June 2022.

Snopes.Com, https://www.snopes.com/news/2022/05/19/what-is-monkeypox/. Accessed 3 June 2022.

“WHO: Monkeypox Won’t Turn into Pandemic, but Many Unknowns.” Snopes.Com, https://www.snopes.com/ap/2022/05/30/who-monkeypox-not-pandemic/. Accessed 3 June 2022.